Excision, to save you some time, means “the act of removing by or as if by cutting out; especially by surgical removal or resection.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about “Excision.”
I have a pretty high tolerance for gore – that I gave my girlfriend a cat heart during a dissection was not missed during senior roasts.
However, I’m very particular. Anything goes as long as you’re not gross about it. Don’t go sticking your bare hands inside people or, god forbid, get anything in your mouth. Patrick Bateman may be the American Psycho, but at least he had the decency to cover things in plastic.
Unfortunately, “Excision” breaks that rule within the first 10 minutes.
Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord), is a troubled suburban teen who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Why? Her sister, Grace (Ariel Winter), has cystic fibrosis, a condition that Pauline has made it her mission to fix. It’s a desire that would normally manifest itself in straight A’s, an avid interest in human biology and a good bedside manner.
In Pauline, however, there’s something darker.
She refuses to do anything academic that does not strictly relate to becoming a surgeon and frequently fails other classes. More troublingly, she displays delusional and sociopathic behavior.
Pauline’s dreams, to which the film cuts with regularity, are, to put it lightly, just plain gross. They often feature scenes of mutilation (often done by Pauline’s hand) or Pauline engaging in… romantic activities with the recently deceased (or vice versa with her being the stiff).
Her home life isn’t so rosy either. The whole cystic fibrosis thing is actually the best part – at least for her – as it gives her a focus for her delusional aspirations and, to be fair, she does care deeply for her sister.
Their mother (Traci Lords) is a textbook narcissist. True to form, she has a favorite child (Grace) who is pretty, girly and a “success” and a despised child (Pauline) whom she sees as a failure.
Her father might as well be an echo chamber for her mom, as he’s constantly bullied into submission.
We can assume that that environment, combined with the fact that her mother substitutes getting her daughter licensed psychiatric help and evaluation for the help of a particularly uncaring priest, is to blame for Pauline’s state of affairs – or at least her rapidly worsening condition
From the film’s first moments, we are taught to hate Pauline’s mother by her narcissism, her pettiness and her outdated, traditional values. She’s even got that holier-than-thou, Bible-thumping religious affiliation that we so love to hate. It doesn’t take a degree in theology and a “Virgin Suicides” Blu-Ray to figure out that that combination of parenting techniques doesn’t make for the most mentally stable children.
Part of us wants to see Pauline as misunderstood – in dire need of help, but misunderstood all the same. But as her condition worsens, we start to see Pauline in a different light. Her mother becomes a more sympathetic (though still insufferable) character as she realizes her mistakes and tries to take care of her (other) daughter’s illness and make amends. Pauline, on the other hand, gets expelled from school and becomes even more engrossed in her surgical pursuits.
Like “Taxi Driver,” “Excision” is a portrait of a descent into madness. And like Travis Bickle’s, Pauline’s madness, though it manifests itself in a myriad of ways that are considered immoral (or at least amoral), is motivated by a noble desire. Travis just wants to clean up the streets of New York, but goes into a dissociative state and commits extremely violent acts. Pauline wants to help her sister, but not through a good bedside manner and learning. Rather, her fetishization of blood and gore, combined with increasingly psychotic behavior leads her to commit crimes that, unlike Travis’s behavior, could not be called heroism by any stretch of the imagination.
She is frustrated that her sister may die while waiting on the transplant list, and that her parents would consider taking her to an emergency room where boorish doctors would mess things up when she, a prodigy of the science of surgery, could do it so much better.
What’s the moral of this story? If your daughter is piercing herself or planning to perform major plastic surgery on herself, you should probably take her to therapy.